By the time I attended primary school in the late 1980`s and early 1990`s, Jackie Chan movies were popular in town. We used to skip school to go to watch his movies. I had no idea that two decades later I would have an opportunity to visit Hong Kong, Jackie Chan`s city of birth.
On a busy day in late May this year, I received an email from Brigitte Read, the head of China-Africa project at Wits University in Johannesburg. I am one of the fellows of this project having researched a story about China influence in construction industry in Rwanda. She asked me if I am interested to take part in the New Now Next Media Conference that would take place at Hong Kong University from 6-8 June 2014.
Immediately I agreed as this opportunity was coming to fulfill my childhood dream. One of the thing that surprised me as I was preparing this trip was that citizens from Rwanda don`t need a visa to enter Hong Kong if their stay does`t exceed 14 days. So everything was set for me to travel with a group of five African journalists from Uganda (Fredrick Mugira), Namibia (John Grobler), Ufrieda Ho and Brigitte Read from South Africa. Unfortunately one journalist from Nigeria who supposed to travel with us could`t secure his visa on time.
I traveled from Kigali to Johannesburg then the next day to Hong Kong which is almost a 14 hours flight. I reached Oliver Tambo International Airport in the evening with Rwanda Air flight and was supposed to sleep at Protea hotel inside the airport. The next morning I bumped into Fredrick as he was just arrived from Kampala with South African Airways. We shared breakfast as we were waiting to meet others. Next we met John and later on in the afternoon we caught up with Ufrieda and Brigitte. We updated each other around food and drinks in a restaurant before taking the long flight to Hong Kong.
As one of the crew of the South African Airways was announcing that we are landing in 10 minutes, I opened the window to look down and contemplate the city I had been dreaming to visit since my childhood. I saw islands surrounded by Pearl River delta and South China Sea in which big vessels were shipping containers to other parts of the world. I could also see the city tall buildings as the captain was trying to land the plane. We landed at almost midday and we were lucky to be received by Ufrieda sister and his husband who are living in Hong Kong.
We had to go through immigration controls which we quickly completed without major problem. Only Fredrick from Uganda had to be asked many questions on what he is coming to do. I guess it is because he was wearing a T-sheet in addition to being African whom Hong Kong authorities suspect to come to seek green pastures in the city. We proceeded to Ramada Hotel first with a train then with a taxi. We were all exhausted having spent the whole night traveling so we needed to rest but we had also to attend a function at foreign club correspondent.
The later is a meeting place for Hong Kong`s media, business and diplomatic community. Brigitte had tipped us to dress smartly and we had all put on our best outfits. I had an opportunity to catch up with famous journalists I used to watch on CNN, Wall street journal, BBC Asia, Reuters among other international media organizations. I respectively caught up with Kristie Lu Stout, Julie Makinen, Kevin Sites, Ramy Inocencio among others. I was awed with the high profile of journalists present besides the friendly atmosphere that was reigning inside the room.
We concluded the night with a dinner in one high class restaurant not far from the foreign club correspondent. We had Chinese food I can`t exactly remember but which tasted very good thanks to Ufrieda who has a Chinese roots and was the one who helped us to make order. Everything was new to me from food to the environment I was about to live in for the next days. Hong Kong transport system as well as its architecture amazed me to the point I was taking pictures all the time.
Hong Kong University
The next morning we had to proceed to Hong Kong University to register for the conference. The AAJA-ASIA`S 4TH conference attracted a huge turnout of journalists and media professionals from all over Asia to discuss some of the biggest stories in the region and challenges in covering them. The conference tackled challenges the media industry is facing and the necessary
skills reporters will need in what is expected to be a constantly evolving digital landscape.
Ying Chan, Director of Hong Kong University`s Journalism and media studies welcomed all participants ahead of the opening panel in which editors of some of the leading news organizations discussed the changing dynamic of the newsroom. Every participant I was talking to was surprised to know that I came all the way from Africa to take part in the conference. Even Ying Chan was awed and decided to take us for a dinner at foreign club correspondent later the following week. On the picture above you can see me with Dr Masato Kajimoto who is a lecture at Hong Kong university in the department of Journalism.
A variety of panels
There were many panels in which participants could attend. I chose to take part in Tian`anmen 25 Years later: The Shoot Seen Around the World in which Kristie Lu Stout conversed with Jeff Widener the famous photographer of “Tank Man” . During the panel I asked Jeff what kind of photographic project he would like to undertake in Africa. I was expecting him to say that he can go to capture image of what is going on in South Sudan but he told me that he can choose to go to Angola to shoot the scenes of children living in poverty.
I also attended various panels such as “building your own digital domain” by Kenneth Tan, Tom Grundy, Alex Hotz and Wan Lam. Others panels I took part in are respectively “You Can Be a Freelancing Success”, “Landing a Job in the Digital Age”, “Women Leaders in Journalism”, “Mobile Journalism 101”, and “MH370: Lessons Learned From a Mysterious Crisis”. The latter was focused on how to cover an incident such as the one of the missing Malaysia Airlines that was traveling in early March from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
I was targeting panels that can empower me to move my freelance journalism work to the next level. In Rwanda where I work, journalists struggle to make end meet as they are poorly paid and work in difficult conditions. I like my job more than anything so I had to choose to be a freelance journalist to see if I can diversify my sources of income and stay in business. All the panels I was targeting had something to do with improving my career. Some of the challenges I have to cope up with are to find media organizations to buy my articles the reason why I attended “You Can Be a Freelancing Success”.
China growing influence
One of the phenomenon that was discussed in one of the panels is the growing China influence in Hong Kong. This is the same thing happening in Africa where you find that Chinese investments are growing in all parts of Africa. China is often accused of turning a blind eye on human rights violations in counties where it does business.
In Diaoyu Debacle: Asia on the brink panel, Steve Herman said that Hong Kong plays a great role to inspire positive values to China. However he was concerned on the growing economic influence China is having on Hong Kong which might undermine its value system. He noted that Hong Kong should be internationalized instead of being “Chinalized”.
Nathaniel Sue a student at Hong Kong university told me that people there think that their city enjoyed a good time under British rule. He said that Britain was a temporary owner of Hong Kong at that time and people still think it was a better owner. ” At least at that time Hong Kong had her own autonomy, everything was in better order with less political influence from China”, said Sue. He noted that Chinese influence is there to stay: politically, economically and socially.
Glamorous Chinese dinner
On Saturday night all delegates were invited to a Chinese dinner at foreign club correspondent. It was an exciting experience to eat food with chopsticks for the first time. My friend John from Namibia tried his best to help and I was finally able to use them though not perfectly. During the dinner I learned that number nine in Chinese represent good luck and long life. The reason they serve you nine different types of food for an official dinner.
We ended our night at Lan Kwai Fong which is a party district. This is one of the best places to party, booze and hang-out with friends. This place features a den of streets packed with bars, clubs, and restaurants. That this place is an extended warm up before stumbling into the Wan Chai area later in the night. Unfortunately we had to go back to the hotel to get some rest and take part in the conference for the last day on Sunday.
One of us was lucky to win a mobile phone during a lottery that was organized to end the conference. The conference gave me an opportunity to learn and make lasting connections with experienced journalists from around the world whom we might collaboration in future.
Time for my next assignment
As the conference was ending I had to focus my attention on the next assignment which was to investigate how Africans are coping up with life in the city. I was able to catch up with young men from Gambia, Togo and other parts of Africa who are trying to make a living in Hong Kong. I found out that the city is home to more than 2000 asylum seekers from Africa who most of the time are treated as economic migrants. Those who are married to Hong Kong citizens are better off as they can work and have a normal life.
Besides my assignment I had quality time visiting famous place in Hong Kong Island and on the other side in Kowloon. One needs to board a ferry near Hong Kong maritime museum to cross the sea to Kowloon which is an urban area comprising the Kowloon peninsula and New Kowloon. Brigitte took us to the street market where we bought some gifts to family members.
I had also time to hang out at Hong Kong Avenue des Stars which is known as a place Jacky Chan received stars. It is also near Hong Kong Museum of Arts, Hong Kong Cultural center and Hong Kong space museum. One of those memorable moments I had in Hong Kong was the symphony of lights. I happened to be at Victoria harbor exactly at 8 PM and was thrilled by the nightly multimedia show witch involves more than 40 buildings on both side of the harbor.
The Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights were described as “’World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by Guinness World Records. This place is packed with thousands of people every night from 8 to 8: 15 PM busy taking memorable pictures and videos. I met French, Germans, Koreans, Chinese tourists among others who were all amazed like me “the boy from East Africa”.
As the colored lights, laser beam perform in unforgettable fashion, we were listening to the show`s music and English narration along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the promenade outside the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.
Time to say goodbye
As our trip was nearing its end, our leader Brigitte took us to our last dinner on top of the mountain at The Peak Lookout. This is the highest point on Hong Kong Island and has been the city’s most exclusive neighborhood since colonial times. From this peak I could see sparkling skyscrapers and Victoria harbor all the way to the new territories. The restaurant offers a menu with a wide variety of choices, and is renowned for offering the best and freshest seafood.
I described this dinner as the “world class dinner” for its quality and taste. I had Tandoori Salmon Salad with pickled cippolini onions, cucumber raita, and marinated lentils. The combination of relaxed atmosphere and the live band which was playing as we ate made that night “a wonderful one” I will always cherish in my heart. We ended our journey in a beautiful way as it had started.
I can underline that we were lucky because no major incident occurred as it sometimes happen when a group of people travel to a destination. We took our flight back home the next morning with a sense of joy and fulfillment. We finally parted our ways at Oliver Tambo International airport as everyone flew to his home country.
Thanks for everyone in the group especially to Brigitte Read who organized this memorable trip.
Now guess what I will tell Jacky Chan when I happen to bump into him !!!